I think our youngest is night-weaned now. What with the co-sleeping, with him being well over three, and what with his unusually agreeable nature, it wasn't hard. We waited for an opportunity, that is, a string of weeks with no overnight trips planned for Mark. And then we changed places so that after the 3-year-old fell asleep nursing, Mark slept between him and me. We got up with a crying boy twice, and offered him ice cream or chocolate milk. That was it; he wakes up once in a while, and Mark says, "Shh, go back to sleep," and he snuggles up to his daddy and drops back out.
I miss him.
I have night-weaned three little co-sleepers before, and each time I was pregnant and in desperate need of deeper, wholly-uninterrupted sleep, plus some extra space around me. That's not the case now; I am not, therefore, relishing a few short months of solid sleeping before expecting a newborn to come along and shake things up. Co-sleeping has been good to us overall; I am well-adapted to the kind of sleep a mother gets when she sleeps every night next to her nursling, which is to say that I move from light sleep to deeper sleep easily, and I could not tell you "how many times he nurses" at night because I don't fully wake for it. But it is still a treat to fall into a deep sleep once in a while, especially on a Sunday afternoon when Mark takes all the kids and promises me an hour or two.
I woke up this morning, pleasantly well-rested, and thought about the fuzzy warm feeling of my little boy's head against my chin, and wondered if I would ever wake up with it again. Probably, I decided; Mark will be gone some nights and he will snuggle with me again; or maybe he will be sick, or maybe he will squeeze in between his dad and mama without Mark noticing. Still: Surely I don't have many more mornings like that with him left.
I suddenly felt, momentarily, very empty-armed.
I am not a touchable person. I am an anti-hugger, with mad skillz for turning aside and deftly deflecting people who come at me with kissy-faces and wide-open arms. Thank God for oxytocin, which makes it so that the few people who have made it past my prickly exterior -- my husband, my small children -- do not actually revolt me, unless they slobber on my face or something. (I could almost feel Maternal Affection burbling through my veins for the first time right after giving birth. What? What's that ... That feeling? As if I wanted to hold that baby? Why, I've heard tales of such things! How very interesting!).
As my older children grow older, I can see it happening in reverse -- the stifling of the hugging and the caresses. From my end. If a long-legged child comes up behind me while I am absorbed in planning or writing, and impulsively wraps his arms around my shoulders, I jump. "Sorry," he says sheepishly, and we both have a good laugh. But next time he'll remember my reaction, and he'll stop himself and pass me by, and go on to the kitchen in search of a glass of cold water, and I won't even know that he had the impulse to reach out and hug me.
I kind of wish I knew whether there would be any more children, something I don't know right now. Because then I could know whether I will regret not keeping the sleeping, warm, fuzzy three-year-old, scented faintly with chocolate ice cream and strawberry-flavored toothpaste, next to me just a few months longer. I wonder if that nightly exposure is the only thing that keeps my arms open at all.